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Horseradish duchess potatoes

Horseradish duchess potatoes
Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times

Over the years as a chef, I've become fixated with understanding the intricacies of various ingredients, but I'd never given horseradish a second thought until fairly recently, when I became obsessed with the horseradish cream that my friend Suzanne Tracht serves at her restaurant, Jar. I dine there often, and every time I tasted that sauce — which she serves with her famous pot roast and as a dip for the potato chips she offers at the bar, among other things — I was blown away by how strong the burn was from the horseradish. I loved it!

Since, at that time, Suzanne and I used the same produce purveyor, the next time I saw him, I asked him what kind of horseradish Suzanne used. As a cook, I come from a school where fresher is always considered better (and I know Suzanne thinks the same way), so I expected our produce guy to hand me some knobby root of an extra-special, very rare variety of horseradish that would offer me that pungent, up-the-nose quality that made Suzanne's horseradish cream so special.

"Atomic," our produce guy said casually, as if I'd know what he was talking about.

"What variety is that?" I asked him.

He walked out to his truck and came back in holding a giant jar.

Before I go on record confessing that my favorite horseradish comes from a jar, I feel like I can at least partially redeem myself by pointing out that it's not just any jar. Morehouse Foods, the company that makes it, is here in Los Angeles. It makes another horseradish sauce under its own name that is common in grocery stores. But Atomic is a product aimed at the company's wholesale market, though it is available at select groceries, delis and online. I buy mine at Huntington Meats in the Original Farmers Market.

The more common Morehouse horseradish contains just horseradish and vinegar, but Atomic contains grated parsnips as well, which gives it a slightly sweet flavor. But the ingredient responsible for the eye-watering heat that makes this brand irresistible turns out to have nothing to do with horseradish at all. It's sort of a secret, listed simply as "natural flavoring," which, upon some investigation, I learned is mustard oil.

I still appreciate fresh horseradish and use it daily at Osteria Mozza, along with parsley, garlic and lemon zest, to make a spicy gremolata to serve atop braised short ribs. And I love fresh, grated horseradish on a ham sandwich.

And even in dishes where Atomic is the star, I often include fresh horseradish as a supporting player. I grate a layer of fresh horseradish over a beet salad with horseradish vinaigrette and also top a horseradish-infused version of duchess potatoes with a light covering of freshly grated horseradish.

I like how fresh horseradish finishes the flavor of a dish, just like fresh Parmesan finishes a pasta, or a dusting of powdered sugar a pastry. And adding freshly grated horseradish to something like horseradish cream also adds a textural component.

But more than anything, like the flecks of vanilla bean in ice cream or gelato, somehow it's reassuring just to see the fresh horseradish there. Even if most of the punch does come from a bottle.

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Total time: 1 1/2 hours, plus cooling time | Makes 18 servings
Note: The potatoes can be assembled ahead of time and refrigerated until ready to bake. If assembling in advance, skip step 1.
  • 2 pounds baby Yukon gold potatoes
  • 1/2 cup horseradish sauce, preferably Atomic
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup creme fraiche
  • 2 egg yolks plus 1 whole egg
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, melted
  • Maldon sea salt
  • Fresh horseradish for grating
  • Fresh chives, minced

Step 1Heat the oven to 400 degrees and adjust a rack on the topmost position.

Step 2Prepare a stovetop steamer to cook the potatoes. Steam the potatoes until they are soft all the way through, 30 to 40 minutes.

Step 3While they're still hot, put the potatoes, skins and all, into a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until the potatoes are just broken up, 10 to 15 seconds. Don't overmix, or the potatoes will become gluey. Take one-half cup Atomic horseradish sauce and squeeze it in your fist to squeeze out all the liquid. Add this to the potatoes and mix on medium speed just to combine, about 10 seconds. Again, don't overmix. Add 1 tablespoon kosher salt and one-half cup crème fraîche, and mix again until just barely combined, about 10 seconds.

Step 4Set aside until the potatoes are just warm. In the meantime, beat 2 egg yolks with 1 egg lightly with a fork.

Step 5When the potatoes are just warm (so the eggs do not cook when they are incorporated), add the beaten eggs and pulse the mixer on and off a couple of times until the eggs are just mixed in. Detach the bowl from the machine and finish incorporating the egg mixture with a rubber spatula.

Step 6Put the potato mixture into a large zip-lock bag and cut a one-half-inch hole in one corner.

Step 7Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray the paper with cooking spray.

Step 8Pipe the potato into 11/2-inch round rosettes, leaving about 2 inches between each; the egg will cause them to puff up a bit, so they need the space to grow. Brush each rosette with melted butter, using about half of the butter. At this point, the potatoes can be refrigerated until ready to bake; if they are refrigerated, keep in mind that they will need a little longer to bake through, as they will be cold.

Step 9Put the potatoes in the oven and bake for 15 minutes, turning the baking sheet halfway through cooking time for even cooking. Increase the oven temperature to 500 and bake the potatoes for 12 to 15 minutes more, turning halfway through, until they are golden brown.

Step 10Remove the potatoes from the oven. Brush them with the remaining butter, sprinkle with Maldon sea salt and top each rosette with a generous grating of fresh horseradish and finely diced chives.

Each serving:
Calories 118; Protein 2 grams; Carbohydrates 9 grams; Fiber 1 gram; Fat 8 grams; Saturated fat 5 grams; Cholesterol 53 mg; Sugar 1 gram; Sodium 279 mg.
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